Sky Harbor ranks in middle of U.S. airports - East Valley Tribune: Business

Sky Harbor ranks in middle of U.S. airports

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Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2007 6:40 am | Updated: 7:49 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A long wait for luggage is a big issue among air travelers now that security restrictions for such liquid essentials as shampoo and mouthwash are forcing more passengers to check their gear.

That’s according to J.D. Power and Associates’ seventh annual study of how pleased passengers are with their airports. The researchers queried more than 10,000 U.S. air passengers during the past year to rate their on-the-ground experiences.

After six years of improving scores, passengers’ assessment of airport services is flat compared with the year before, said Jim Gaz, senior director of travel and entertainment at J.D. Power.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport ranks just about in the middle of the pack of large airports — those that serve 30 million-plus passengers per year — in keeping customers satisfied.

But the difference between the local air hub, which earned a 689 out of 1,000 score, and the top-rated Dallas Fort Worth International was only 15 points.

Travelers rated the airports on eight factors: airport accessibility, baggage claim, check in/baggage check, terminal facilities, security check, food and beverage, retail services and immigration/customs control.

Overall, the passengers were pleased with check-in services compared with their sentiments regarding the topic a year earlier, but not so with baggage claim, especially at large airports.

“We saw a 10 percent increase in the number of bags checked that we think is a direct result of (new carry-on) restrictions,” Gaz said. “That coupled with struggling airlines trying to handle more bags with less staff — average wait times only increased by one minute, but scores dropped significantly.”

At Sky Harbor, baggage claim was one of only three services that declined in passenger’s esteem during the last year, Gaz said. The others were retail and food and beverage offerings.

J.D. Power asked customers to rate the variety and the prices at the airport shops and restaurants.

Earning falling scores in those categories was a surprise to Deborah Ostreicher, Sky Harbor’s deputy aviation director. Especially since the airport has boosted the bounty of shops and restaurants at all three terminals within the last few years.

And all the airport concessions operate under a “street pricing” agreement, Ostreicher said. That requires that prices charged are the same as those charged at a typical store outside the airport.

And Sky Harbor asked passengers what kind of shops or eateries they wanted before adding them, she said.

“At Terminal 4, we brought in Asian cuisine, ice cream, more specialty shops — exactly what the people said they wanted,” Ostreicher said. “We are always asking customers what would make their travel experience better, and we take their feedback seriously.”

But Gaz said often dissatisfaction reflects a changed perception. In times of declining economic stability, for example, customers are much more aware of shop prices than in heady times, he said.

As for a slip in baggage claim satisfaction at Sky Harbor, that’s not a fair assessment, Ostreicher said, since the study blames the airport for services it doesn’t control.

“The airport manages the operations of the carousels, but we don’t unload the planes or throw the bags on the carousel,” she said.

Gaz said most passengers know that, too, but their airport satisfaction level still reflects their entire experience while in the building.

Gaz said 45 percent of the baggage claim complainers thought the airline was responsible, 9 percent blamed the airport, and 46 percent said the two were equally responsible.

Like security check lines, dissatisfaction with the service is mostly based on wait times customers consider unacceptable, he said.

The apparent satisfaction plateau for nearly all services from security lines to baggage claim to the amount of time to get from a parking place to a terminal is about 17 minutes, Gaz said.

“After 17 minutes you see satisfaction scores drop significantly,” he said.

It can pose a problem for some airports that are too customer friendly.

Dallas-Fort Worth, the highest scorer among the big airports, fares poorly on baggage claim satisfaction, Gaz said. That’s because the airport located baggage carousels nearly next to the gates, he said. It means passengers don’t have to walk for 10 or 15 minutes to get to the baggage claim area and believe they are waiting a much longer time to collect their luggage, he said.

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